Once graded it’s a matter of planes, trains, and automobiles to get the coffee where it’s needed. Starting in bulk, the green beans will eventually be sold off in smaller batches to different coffee traders and distributors until it finally ends up at your local coffee roastery.
It’s not just about transport, though. The more links in the distribution chain, the further the consumer is removed from the producer. This can result in high margins for the middlemen and a lower price to the farmer.
It can also obscure the ethical standards that were adhered to in the production of the coffee. To combat this, organizations have been set up to promote direct trade and fair trade coffee.
The idea behind direct trade is that the company that sells you the coffee sourced it directly from the producer. They make sure that the farmer gets a better than fair price rather instead of paying that premium to a bunch of middlemen.
Organizations promoting fair trade are more concerned with the economics of sustainable coffee production rather than ethical employment or ecological issues.
They say that they inspect the farms to check labor practices and use of pesticides but they don’t uniformly insist on a firm set of rules in these areas.
The folks involved in Fair Trade coffee have a more holistic view of the production of coffee.
They look beyond just the farmer growing the coffee and have strict requirements regarding labor practices and ecologically friendly agricultural practices. The premise behind both of these organizations is good, but how effective they are as a force for good in coffee production is a contentious issue.
It’s good to remember, though, that how and where your coffee travels on its way to you is more than just a matter of logistics. The fewer links in the distribution chain between you and your coffee, the better chance there is of the guy producing it getting a fair price.